In the eighth inning Friday of Milwaukee’s game Friday against the Cubs, Jean Segura was on second. Then he was on first.
All of a sudden, the question of the meaning of life was rendered insignificant. Up was down. Left was right. And forward was backward.
The baseball community needed to figure this out. Baseball certainly comes the closest of any sport to keeping an immaculate record book, and baseball people having been trying to figure out how to record this play since Segura touched first for the second time in the eighth inning Friday night. MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus both came to the same conclusion: there is no correct way to score it.
I’m not so sure.
First of all, watch the play (embedded above) one more time.
With Jonathan Lucroy batting, Jean Segura gets caught trying to steal third base. Segura gets in a rundown long enough for Ryan Braun to advance to second base. Segura gets back to second base, leaving the Brewers with two runners at the bag. The confusion begins.
Here’s what everybody seems to agree on, and the justifications in the rule book, culled from the 5,523 words of Rule 7.00.
When Segura is tagged while on second base at the same time as Ryan Braun, he is safe and Braun is out. From Rule 7.03, the last of the simple rules for the baserunner, “Two runners may not occupy a base, but if, while the ball is alive, two runners are touching a base, the following runner shall be out when tagged. The preceding runner is entitled to the base.” Segura was preceding, Braun was following, and therefore Braun was out.
Segura is tagged for a second time soon after Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro tagged Braun, and he should have been out right here for a double play:
Segura thought he was out and headed toward the Brewers’ dugout on the first base side of the field. By the time he realizes something is up — specifically, that he was never called out — he is halfway to first base with Anthony Rizzo chasing after him with the ball. Segura runs back to first base, and Brewers first base coach Garth Iorg issues the most important command in first base coaching history:
“Stay here, Jean.” But can he? Rule 7.01 is pretty clear as to the runner’s right to re-occupy a base (or lack thereof):
“Rule 7.01 Comment: If a runner legally acquires title to a base, and the pitcher assumes his pitching position, the runner may not return to a previously occupied base.”
So once Segura was on second and Kevin Gregg toed the rubber following the steal, Segura is no longer able to retake first base. But in this specific case — one of confusion, more or less — Segura isn’t out simply for running the bases in reverse. Rule 7.08 (i) covers this, declaring a runner to be out in the following situation:
“After he has acquired legal possession of a base, he runs the bases in reverse order for the purpose of confusing the defense or making a travesty of the game. The umpire shall immediately call “Time” and declare the runner out.”
As the umpires said following the game, neither the “confusing the defense” nor “making a travesty of the game” aspects of the rule qualified for Segura — at least, not intentionally. So he wasn’t called out simply for going in reverse.
Here’s where it gets dicey and I start to disagree with the rulings laid out at both Baseball Prospectus and MLB.com. First, the MLB.com story suggests Segura should have been out again, as Iorg interferes with a confused Segura trying to go to the dugout again. This does happen:
It appears to be a clear violation of Rule 7.09 (g), which declares the following to be interference:
“In the judgment of the umpire, the base coach at third base, or first base, by touching or holding the runner, physically assists him in returning to or leaving third base or first base.”
But time was called by the first base umpire seconds before Iorg held Segura back. Observe:
After is called, Braun is informed he is out, he heads to the dugout, and the at-bat resumes. Segura appears to be on first, and here’s where the confusion in the scoring happens. How do you account for Segura moving backwards on the basepaths? There isn’t such an event in the baseball scoring lexicon, which makes it hell for any scorer. It’s even worse for somebody preparing the game for Retrosheet or a similar data entry system meant to be legible by machines.
The answer from MLB.com is to do simply put in something wrong a computer can handle:
“They came up with the best possible solution, albeit an inaccurate one. One hundred years from now, when someone looks at the play-by-play, it will appear Braun was caught stealing second base for the second out of the inning, even though it was occupied by Segura. And Segura was caught stealing third base to end the inning, even though 28,346 fans in the stands on Friday night saw something entirely different.”
This description simply isn’t true. We can do better. For accuracy’s sake — and there isn’t a sport that cares about accuracy’s sake with such pedantry as baseball — we must. So here’s my solution.
Segura was, by the definition of the rule, occupying second base the entire time. His adventure back to first base was for all intents and purposes overrunning the base. And as rule 7.08 (c) says, a runner is out when:
“He is tagged, when the ball is alive, while off his base.”
We know that happened already — immediately after Braun was tagged out, way back before Segura even started running back to first. But successful tags are missed all the time, and they don’t create a scoring nightmare. We merely score them as if they never happened.
So what I am suggesting is this: Segura was never entitled to first base at any time during the whole situation. This is clear, from Rule 7.01 quoted earlier, “the runner may not return to a previously occupied base.”
The penalty for returning to a previous base isn’t explicit, however. Some could interpret it as the runner is out — “he may not return” — but I would suggest it merely means he simply cannot acquire the right to an unoccupied previous base. That is, the runner can go ahead and stand on said base if he wants, but if he is tagged, he is out — it is no longer a safe haven.
If the Cubs had thrown over to first base and tagged Segura out while he was on first base, he should have been called out. But they didn’t. Instead, the Cubs just let him stand there. What appeared to be Segura’s second stolen base attempt, I then suggest, was a last-ditch attempt to return to second base, the bag he was still entitled to.
Although Segura was never on his entitled base — second base, that is — once Kevin Gregg took the mound to finally pitch again to Jonathan Lucroy, there is no reason Segura should have been called out simply for that fact.(again, ignoring the initial missed tag as the umpires did). Looking at rule 7.08, the reasons a runner can be called out, none of the sub-rules qualify. Segura was never tagged nor was there an attempt to tag him until the pickoff attempt. There was no intereference, as I believe I established above, and none of the sub-rules concerning the special nature of first base and home plate apply. Nor was there an appeal.
So once the Cubs finally did apply a tag — on the seeming stolen base attempt — Segura was merely out trying to get back to his base. That is not a caught stealing. That is a pickoff. The play should be scored as a pickoff, catcher-to-second base in which Jean Segura happened to take the worst lead of all-time: 80 feet towards the wrong base.